This year doesn’t look like a promising one for the promotion of catching prospects, at least those who could make a positive impression in fantasy baseball leagues. The San Diego Padres’ Austin Hedges may prove to be the exception to make his debut. Andrew Susac could allow the San Francisco Giants move Buster Posey to first base in September if circumstances called for it. Christian Bethancourt may be back with the Atlanta Braves to grab some pine. The Boston Red Sox may even want to give Blake Swihart a taste of The Show in September. But these youngsters probably aren’t ready for the bigs.
I decided to hold off on August catcher tiers until after the non-waiver trade deadline. There shouldn’t be much movement at this position, but a few extra days in the potential aftermath can’t hurt.
Josmil Pinto, Minnesota Twins
I have mentioned him more than once as a backstop in whom rotisserie and head-to-head gamers should develop interest. It’s not because I don’t think fantasy owners know who he is. It’s not because I have a huge crush on him. It’s because he seems to fit the criteria at the time. But he’s a pretty good hitter, too.
Kurt Suzuki is about the only croucher left on the barter market. The Baltimore Orioles are about the only team who could use his services now that the St. Louis Cardinals have signed A.J. Pierzynski. Suzuki shouldn’t cost the O’s much, and he’d make a lot of sense for the AL East leaders, who lost Matt Wieters to Tommy John surgery last month.
The Twinkies were rumored to be considering an extension for Suzuki, but talks went nowhere, reportedly. As easily as the news might coax a groan, it kind of makes sense; the Twins aren’t said to be terribly confident in the defense of any of the catchers in their system just yet. But if Suzuki views this offseason as a window of opportunity to cash in on a relatively resurgent season, then it’d seem to make sense for Minnesota to get a little something for him before he does.
Pinto may not have done enough to inspire Twins management this season. But that likely has more to do with his work behind the dish than beside it. His batting average (.222) in his 158 major league plate appearances this year doesn’t knock your socks off, but his .185 ISO in them and his .342/.398/.556 showing in 83 plate appearances late last season aren’t to be overlooked. There isn’t much concern about his ability to hit, at least for extra bases, as he continues to prove at Triple-A Rochester. Another chance for the 25-year-old in August seems like a good possibility – particularly because Minnesota wants to move DH Josh Willingham as well. Pinto could be a mixed-league commodity again soon.
Josh Phegley, Chicago White Sox
Tyler Flowers has been a surprise .243 hitter this season, but he hasn’t provided much power (.107 ISO) and thus has been a negative offensively anyway. His defense has helped him to maintain his grip on the ChiSox’s starting role this year. The presence of Rule 5 Adrian Nieto left no room for Phegley, either, especially if everyday ABs weren’t going to be available.
But Nieto is still a project, a candidate for demotion after he’s spent the requisite season on the 25-man roster. Flowers at this point looks like a backup catcher in the making – David Ross minus a decade, give or take … assuming that Flowers rediscovers that power stroke soon.
Phegley may not be the most exciting Catcher of the Future in baseball, but he’s still interesting. He’s followed up his .316/.368/.597 in 258 plate appearances for Triple-A Charlotte in 2013 with a .273/.335/.509 slash line in 365 plate appearances this season for the Knights. He went into the tank in MLB quickly last year after a hot start to finish with a .206/.223/.299 set. The numbers may not suggest it, but he should be better prepared for a second shot at the bigs, with an idea of what to expect, at least. He proved to be more than adequate behind the dish last year, and his defense has been top-notch this season.
There doesn’t seem to be any reason for the South Siders to hold Phegley back in the second half. They should be ready to find out what they have in the 26-year-old. He stands a better chance to be a 15-team, two-catcher mixed-league option than Flowers, anyway.
Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners
The M’s have been rumored to be in pursuit of Matt Kemp, at least as a backup plan. To what isn’t clear, but the guess would be if they’re unable to acquire a frontline starting pitcher. Their acquisition of Kendrys Morales is more of a shot in the dark than a certain solution to their lack of right-handed-punch problem.
The Mariners must be hoping that Morales (.085 ISO) is about to turn it on. Corey Hart (.209/.288/.321) has been a shadow of his pre-knee-surgery self. Justin Smoak, who’s on the farm, is more of a power threat against right-handed pitching (.168 ISO against RHPs versus .136 ISO against LHPs, lifetime).
If Seattle doesn’t come up with another bat by the end of trade season, then it’s conceivable that Montero becomes the answer, at least in September. Folks still aren’t convinced that Montero will be a consistent producer in the bigs. That’s fine. His ability to hit left-handed pitching (.318/.369/.459 in 263 MLB plate appearances) is more than adequate. He’s destroyed hurlers from that side in the minors (.347/.414/.684 in 222 minor league plate appearances) in the last four years. They could plug him in at DH and use him as a pinch hitter against southpaws. The right-handed bat off the bench has become an asset.
Perhaps they’re reluctant to entrust him with a role. It’d be understandable. But Montero, 24, hasn’t gone into the toilet (.304/.370/.535 in 357 PAs at Triple-A Tacoma this season) in the face of the bevy of criticism and disappointment that surrounded him. It might not be such a bad idea for the M’s to find a way to put his most verifiable strength to use and redeem some value from him.
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